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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sword of Damocles and Advice Columns

In preparation for a new year perhaps we should examine the advice being doled out by professional advisors.

No, not what you think. I’m not going to berate Trump advisors. They have their hands more than full trying to keep the small-handed Trump from spewing forth rambling delusions to wandering reporters.

Not to mention the Mueller Sword of Damocles hanging heavily over Trump and his merry band of reverse Robin Hoods. In the dark of night do any of the not-yet-indicted Trump family, friends, and advisors wake up to contemplate the smell or feel of a prison cell? 

The Damocles Sword analogy is so apropos to Trump and his advisors. For those not familiar or who have forgotten the tale, a short summary. As a result of Damocles’ pandering to King Dionysius, Damocles finds himself “King for a Day” in the lap of luxury. But it turns out not to be such a great gig since a huge sword, barely held in place, hangs over his head the entire time. 

Some say the tale is a reminder that with great power comes great danger. Or a reminder that pandering has its own peculiar punishments.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions. I said, I’m not going to discuss Trump and his advisors. And I'm sticking to that.

Instead, I’m turning to something more benign—serial killers next door and the preservation of hard candy. Since this essay has continued to expand, much like some things do, I’ll split it into two, with a promise to tie it all neatly with a left-over Christmas bow in time for New Years Eve.

The New York Times ethic columnist recently dealt with whether a homeowner selling his house should disclose to prospective buyers that the owner next door is a serial killer. Gee, I suppose that’s in the category of something I’d want to know but never thought to ask.

The inquirer described the next-door neighbor as someone who had killed two people when he was a young man and, after serving 25 years, had recently been released and returned to the family home, which happened to be next door to the person who suddenly wanted to sell his house. For other reasons. Ha. That’s a good one.

The columnist discussed at great length various ethical and legal considerations, real estate disclosure issues, and how particular legal issues vary from state to state while, at the same time, not really answering any of those questions.

I can see this question on a future law school or realtor exam: Discuss and analyze constraints and requirements of disclosure when selling a house next door to a serial killer. Use your own discretion weighing liability issues with questions of ethics, morality, and common sense. Use all pages of the blue book and write in the margins as necessary to fully explore all sides of the issues.

The ethicist concluded by observing that societal interests were served by the would-be seller not disclosing that his next-door neighbor was a serial killer. Which also would seem to improve the odds for the would-be seller becoming an actual seller. The ethicist observed that the convicted killer, after all, had served his time and paid his debt to society and that one journalist’s study suggested a killer who has served his time is not all that likely to be a recidivist.

Plus, according to the ethicist, if the convicted killer is at all rational, he should know he would be the first suspect if a body is discovered nearby.

I don’t find this final conclusion particularly reassuring. First, the fact my future neighbor would be the first person the police would talk to if my body were discovered in the nearby woods does not give me a lot of comfort. But maybe that’s just me.

Second, assuming the next-door serial killer is rational, he likely would decide to dump my body as far away from his home as possible. Don’t TV shows always make the serial killer particularly crafty and less likely to leave clues right out in the open—like not dumping their victims’ bodies nearby.

Finally, though, speaking of TV shows portrayals of serial killers I have to comment on the stunning omission from the ethicist’s remarks. Why does the ethicist leave unchallenged the assumption that someone who has murdered only two people is a serial killer? As anyone who has watched even a smattering of crime shows knows, the FBI does not consider a murderer to be a serial killer until there are at least three similar killings.

So, the response should have been--obviously, there is no serial killer next door. He’s just someone who killed a couple of people, and maybe the victims annoyed the killer. So, the future home buyer need only be warned to stay on the good side of his neighbors. Listen carefully to the answers you receive next time you ask about future neighbors.

My next column will answer--how are serial killers like hard candy or windmill cookies. Cheers!

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